Thursday, January 4, 2018

Malden Catholic Hockey Topples Catholic Memorial in Physical Battle

By Eamon Convey (@eamonconvey)

Brighton, Mass.
- A rough start to a season can be turned around in one game, especially when that contest pits one league opponent against another.

That is precisely what the Malden Catholic Lancers (1-2-1), the state's No. 11 ranked team according to Hockey Night in Boston, hope to have done after getting their first Catholic Conference victory of the season with a 3-1 result versus the No. 8 Catholic Memorial Knights (3-2-0).

Coming off consecutive losses in the annual Serino Holiday Tournament, first to Hingham in a shootout in the preliminary round, then a disappointing 5-1 result versus Austin Prep in the consolation round, Lancers’ head coach John McLean wanted his team to get back to simple hockey.

“Early on we got the puck deep and we went to work,” McLean said. “It is the first time all season that team said ‘you know what, we’re not as good (this year) as we usually are, but we’re going to work’ so they banged bodies and got dirty and didn’t get too cute.”

One play in the opening quarter was decidedly “too cute,” as a lapse in concentration by a Lancers’ defenseman resulted in an easy goal for the Knights to open the scoring, courtesy of freshman Tommy Rooney’s heads up play to poke the rebound home. 

However, just two minutes later, a penalty committed by Knights’ freshman forward Will MacNeil put the Lancers on the power play. After an initial shot from the top of the top of the left circle by Lancers’ sophomore Riley Duran, Knights’ senior captain goalie Brendan Clancy lost track of the rebound, and senior Colin Nestor slammed home the game-tying goal.

Towards the end of the first period, Lancers’ goalie Kevin Burkett made a fantastic save after MacNeil found junior assistant captain Chris Rooney out front for a one-timer. Moments later, another pass from MacNeil found a cutting Tommy whose wrist shot beat Burkett stick-side, but rang off the left post and out.

When asked if there were any adjustment made at the first intermission, McLean responded, “zero.”

The Knights attempted to set the tone early in the second period with two heavy open-ice hits on its opponent, but credit the Lancers for shaking off the cobwebs and continuing to play the brand of hockey they needed to be successful.

“Yeah, they killed us on those two hits, it was great,” McLean said with a smile. “Both good, clean hits, too, really just good hockey plays. I told our guys that’s what happens when you don’t move the puck. You move the puck, you keep your head up, and those hits won’t happen to you.”

As for the message to his team going into the final period of play tied up 1-1, “We just need these two points in league play.”

Early in the third the Lancers were gifted a power play and immediately began to generate chances. After Clancy stopped an initial slap shot from the blue line by Lancers’ sophomore Cam Lawhorne, the rebound was loose in behind the Knights’ goalie, and eventually poked home by junior Jerry Bazile to give Malden a 2-1 lead.

Minutes later, Lancers’ sophomore Carson James went to the box for a slash that put the Knights on the power play with a chance to re-tie the game. After a couple of good scoring chances were turned away by Burkett, the Lancers forwards made another big play on special teams, this time on the penalty kill.

“Duran picked (CM’s) pocket and hit me with a nice little saucer pass,” senior captain Ryan Noonan said. “First I had to beat the defenders into the zone, which I did. When I looked up I thought I saw something open above the glove, and beat (Clancy) with a good, hard shot to put us up 3-1.”

Despite holding a two-goal advantage, the remainder of the third period wasn’t as smooth as the Lancers might have liked. After putting the Knights on a power play courtesy of a slash by freshman David Bazile, Burkett was called on to make a handful of difficult saves in the final minutes to preserve the win.

The best of those last chances by the Knights came on a nice play at the blue line to spring a forward in alone on goal. Burkett never looked fazed and took the opportunity to dive out and poke the puck away, preserving the Lancers’ two-goal lead.

“We were really able to shut them down with our penalty kill late in the game,” Noonan said. “Burkett was awesome behind us and gave us the confidence to play a little faster, maybe a little more aggressive. We got pucks deep, chased them down, made some plays, got pucks on net and thankfully were able to put a couple home.

According to McLean, the Lancers likely will not get another full practice under their belt until the morning of the next game, a home league tilt versus St. John’s Prep, Saturday at 1 p.m. 

“We’re just excited to get back out there after getting this monkey off our back,” Noonan said. “We aren’t as talented as teams here in the past, but we can definitely get the job done like they did. We will just have to commit to working a little harder than they did.”

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